New virus extorts cash from visitors of porn sites

A new type of malware infects computers using file-share web sites to download pornography and publishes the user’s internet history on a public web site before demanding a fee for its removal, reports the BBC—and of the virus’s victims is reported to be a school headmaster in Japan. The virus, which originated in Japan, installs itself on computers using a popular file-share service called Winni, used by up to 200 million people. It targets those downloading illegal copies of games in the Hentai genre, an explicit form of anime. The web site Yomiuri claims that 5,500 people have so far admitted to being infected. The virus, known as Kenzero, is being monitored by web security firm Trend Micro in Japan. One of Kenzero’s victims is reported to be a school headmaster in Japan. Masquerading as a game installation screen, it requests the PC owner’s personal details. It then takes screen captures of the user’s web history and publishes them online in the user’s name, before sending an eMail message or pop-up screen demanding a credit card payment of to “settle your violation of copyright law” and remove the web page…

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Open courseware 2.0: The next steps in the OER movement

Putting free courseware online was a first step in reimagining education. So what now? Wiki universities, smart courses, and—maybe—improved learning, reports the New York Times. A decade has passed since MIT decided to give much of its course materials to the public in an act of largesse. The MIT OpenCourseWare Initiative helped usher in the “open educational resources” (OER) movement, with its ethos of sharing knowledge via free online educational offerings. The movement has helped dislodge higher education from its brick-and-mortar moorings and has given higher education unprecedented reach—but putting course materials online for free isn’t cheap. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the principal financial backer of the open educational movement, has spent more than $110 million on these efforts over the past eight years, and now the foundation is pushing its grant recipients to do more than just make courseware available. In a letter to grantees in February, the foundation said that the current financial climate has forced it to reduce its education grant-making budget by 40 percent since 2008, requiring the foundation to adhere more closely to its primary goals: “to increase access to knowledge for all and improve the practices of teaching and learning.” “We’d like to see data being gathered, and see these materials being improved, and we’d like to see new models of learning,” says Victor Vuchic, the Hewlett program officer responsible for open education. He says the foundation is interested in projects that track and analyze who is using programs, look at how open education enhances learning, and examine how it is changing the future of education…

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Palin dispute raises questions about university foundations

Palin’s fee and accommodations will be covered entirely by private donations, not state funds, an official said.

Palin’s fee and accommodations will be covered entirely by private donations, not state funds, an official said.

An escalating controversy involving a California State University foundation that hired Sarah Palin to give a speech has shed light on legal loopholes that allow such foundations to operate with little public oversight—and now some stakeholders are calling for greater accountability for these auxiliary organizations.

The state attorney general’s office announced April 13 that it would investigate California State University, Stanislaus, and its foundation for their handling of the contract for Palin’s speech. Meanwhile, a California group that advocates for open government filed a lawsuit April 16 against the university over its refusal to disclose documents related to the speech.

The state attorney general’s investigation has sparked a new round of calls for greater transparency and financial accountability for organizations embedded within California’s public universities, particularly given the size of their assets.

“Prudent financial stewardship is crucial at a time in which universities face vastly decreased state funding and increased student fees,” Attorney General Jerry Brown said while announcing his investigation.

Californians Aware filed a lawsuit in Stanislaus County Superior Court against CSU Stanislaus, seeking an order by a judge to release information about Palin’s contract with the school’s nonprofit foundation.

The former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate is scheduled to visit the Central Valley, Calif., campus in June. Palin is now a commentator for the Fox News cable television network.

The university has repeatedly denied public-records requests filed by Californians Aware, a state lawmaker, and the Associated Press (AP) seeking Palin-related documents. It says contract negotiations were handled by its foundation, which it claims is legally exempt from the California Public Records Act.

Palin’s fee and accommodations will be covered entirely by private donations, not state funds, foundation board president Matt Swanson has said.

Students said they found part of the contract with Palin in a university trash bin after state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, had formally requested records related to Palin’s appearance.

The university told Yee it did not have any documents related to the speech and said it had referred the matter to Swanson.

Swanson sent letters to Yee and the AP stating that Palin’s contract had a nondisclosure clause. He also said university foundations and other auxiliary organizations were not subject to the same public-records requirements as the university itself.

Geoff O’Neill, the University of California vice president for institutional advancement, called the investigation at CSU Stanislaus and related allegations regrettable.

“It’s unfortunate if these types of activities result in a lack of confidence in university or college foundations,” he said. “Here at UC, they really are instrumental in helping us raise significant sums of private support.”

Foundations at each of the 10 University of California campuses control assets totaling nearly $4 billion, according to an independent audit commissioned by the university. By comparison, UC received $2.6 billion in state general funds this year, the state budget office says.

The 93 auxiliary bodies and foundations at California State University campuses control $1.34 billion, according to the CSU chancellor’s office.


Apple iPad: The evolution of home computing

I have seen the future of home computing, and it is the iPad. I’m convinced of it, PC World’s Kenneth van Wyk reports. Yes, iPadurday has come and gone. Many of us have Wi-Fi iPads in our grubby little mitts. Early reviews have been mostly stellar. The device–and more importantly, the software running it–is superb, but certainly not perfect. And now we’ve seen Steve Jobs outline the next release of the operating system, iPhone OS 4.0. That’s all well and good, but largely secondary to my point. I’ve discussed the app store model here a couple of times , and the security ramifications it carries. Well, let’s consider the iPad in that light, now that it has been released. When I got my iPad, I immediately installed several software packages on it. Most of it was for entertainment (e.g., Netflix, ABC Reader), but I also installed a couple of apps that could at least ostensibly be used for business (e.g., Pages, Keynote). Each installation was simple: I ran the App Store application, found the tools I wanted, and clicked the purchase icon. Within moments, each package installed…

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Water-cooled supercomputers on the way

Around the world, engineers are searching for energy-efficient ways to cool down racks of computers in warehouses that get as hot as an oven while powering the internet, LiveScience reports. A new study suggests warm water might just be the wave of the future for cooling these energy-hogging data centers–and recouping some of their waste heat as useful energy. Early next month, IBM and a Swiss university plan to test out this concept with an innovative water-cooled supercomputer called Aquasar that will cut energy costs and contribute to campus heating needs. At 140 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (60 to 70 degrees Celsius), the liquid chilling the electronic guts of Aquasar will be hot by human standards. But this “warm” cold water will keep the computers’ components below a performance-hurting 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius) and pack enough energy for other purposes. “Essentially [Aquasar] will be a thermal power plant,” said Ingmar Meijer of IBM Research-Zurich in Switzerland, who wrote an article on the water-cooling of servers appearing today in the journal Science. “You feed your electrical energy in there…but the electrical energy is not lost, it is just converted to thermal energy that you can use for building heating…”

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Despite budget woes, university still has money for bottled water

Times are tough at the University of California, the New York Times reports. The state’s budget crisis has led to cuts, layoffs and higher student fees. It is enough to drive someone to drink–as long as it’s not plain old tap water. Even though money is tight, the university has spent about $2 million in recent years on brand name, commercially produced and delivered bottled water to campuses in San Francisco and Berkeley. With both cities boasting some of the nation’s highest-quality drinking water, critics see bottled water as a questionable expense that is bad for the environment. “Bottled water is, largely, an unnecessary waste of money,” Peter H. Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland and a MacArthur genius fellowship recipient for his work on water issues, wrote via eMail from Alexandria, Egypt, where he was attending a conference on water sustainability. “But there are also substantial environmental, social and political costs not captured in the price alone…”

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Andreessen-founded Ning cuts staff, free service

Uh-oh. Just a month after Gina Bianchini, co-founder of build-a-social-network service Ning, departed the company, it’s cutting 40 percent of its staff and axing its free, ad-supported service, CNet reports. Bianchini had co-founded Ning with Valley legend Marc Andreessen, and it had raised $119 million in venture capital, including a whopping $60 million round in early 2008 that Andreessen famously characterized as a stockpile for the “nuclear winter” that would help get it through the economic recession. Jason Rosenthal, the Ning COO who took over as CEO from Bianchini, sent an eMail memo to company staffers on April 15 that somebody forwarded to industry blog TechCrunch. He explained that Ning will be focusing on premium networks–which come with additional features and are not ad-supported–because that’s where the company’s business successes have been, thus far. “We are going to change our strategy to devote 100 percent of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity,” Rosenthal’s memo explained after detailing the success of a number of its paid networks. “We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning.” The company’s staff reduction will take it from 167 to 98 employees…

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Study: Young adults do care about online privacy

Young adults should be informed about online privacy, experts say.

Young adults should be informed about online privacy, experts say.

All the dirty laundry younger people seem to air on social networks these days might lead older Americans to conclude that today’s tech-savvy generation doesn’t care about privacy.

Such an assumption fits happily with declarations that privacy is dead, as online marketers and social sites such as Facebook try to persuade people to share even more about who they are, what they are thinking, and where they are at any given time.

But it’s not quite true, a new study finds. Despite mounds of anecdotes about college students sharing booze-chugging party photos, posting raunchy messages, and badmouthing potential employers online, young adults generally care as much about privacy as older Americans.

The report, from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania, is among the first quantitative studies looking at young people’s attitudes toward privacy as government officials and corporate executives alike increasingly grapple with such issues.

“It is going to counter a lot of assumptions that have been made about young adults and their attitudes toward privacy,” said Mary Madden, senior researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project. She was not part of the study but reviewed the report for the Associated Press ahead of its April 15 release.

Among the findings:

• Eighty-eight percent of people of all ages said they have refused to give out information to a business because they thought it was too personal or unnecessary. Among young adults, 82 percent have refused, compared with 85 percent of those over 65.

• Most people—86 percent—believe that anyone who posts a photo or video of them on the internet should get their permission first, even if that photo was taken in public. Among young adults 18 to 24, 84 percent agreed—not far from the 90 percent among those 45 to 54.

• Forty percent of adults ages 18 to 24 believe executives should face jail time if their company uses someone’s personal information illegally—the same as the response among those 35 to 44 years old.

The survey, based on a 2009 telephone survey of 1,000 Americans 18 and older, did find some areas with generational differences in attitudes. For example, while 69 percent of all respondents said a company should be fined more than $2,500 for privacy violations, only 54 percent of those 18 to 24 years old thought the fine should be that steep.

Even so, the majority of young people generally agreed with their older counterparts in wanting more privacy, not less.

“Yes, there are some young people who are posting racy photographs and personal information. But those anecdotes might not represent what the average young person is doing online,” said Chris Hoofnagle, co-author of the study and director of information privacy programs at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

Although they grew up in the digital age, young people know surprisingly little about their rights to online privacy, the study found. They seem more confident than older adults that the government would protect them, even though U.S. privacy laws offer few such safeguards.


Community colleges turn to online classes as enrollments spike

Distance learning enrollment continues to outpace overall college enrollment numbers.

Distance-learning enrollment continues to grow faster than overall college enrollment numbers.

Distance-learning enrollment in American community colleges jumped by 22 percent during the 2008-09 academic year, an increase fueled in part by an influx of nontraditional students who require the flexibility of online courses, according to a survey conducted by the Instructional Technology Council (ITC).

The ITC, which is affiliated with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), collected 226 responses from community colleges in its annual survey, “Trends in eLearning: Tracking the Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges,” which revealed the 2008-09 increase in online enrollment. Last year’s ITC survey reported an 11-percent uptick in web-based class enrollment at community colleges.

The survey also highlighted the closing gap in course completion rates among online learners, which traditionally has lagged behind that of traditional face-to-face students. Seventy-two percent of web-based community college students completed their class last year, compared with 76 percent of on-campus students.

More students and faculty are more willing to embrace online college classes as technology evolves and distance learning is enhanced by streaming audio and video, for example, but community college instructors said the unprecedented enrollment spike during the economic recession has forced decision makers to find ways to expand class sections.

Tammy Peery, chair of the English Department at Montgomery College’s Germantown, Md., campus, said she has tracked a steady increase in online offerings since 2007, when there were 23 online sections available in nine English classes. By next fall, she said, Montgomery College will have 32 online sections in 16 English classes.

“It’s not really a new fad now; it’s more established, so people are more willing to give it a try,” said Peery, who was named Maryland’s top online college instructor on March 4. “[Community colleges are] facing space problems … and you’re limited in the number of classrooms you have and the number of people who can teach them.”

Management of distance-learning programs has moved away from the campus IT operations and toward the college’s academic infrastructure, according to the ITC survey. Online instructors said that has made online teaching more inviting to faculty members who’ve taught in traditional classrooms for years and were hesitant about teaching web-based classes.

“You don’t have to be a computer science major or have that heavy kind of technology background to do things correctly,” Peery said. “And now you’ve got more faculty who are excited about online learning.”

Melora Sundt, an associate dean for academic programs at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, said expanding online course offerings has been a way for community colleges to cope with surging enrollment and dwindling operating budgets in recent years.

“I think institutions are trying to figure out how they’re going to serve greater and greater numbers of students with fewer resources,” Sundt said.

Community colleges in some parts of the country are now catering to students who live three or four hours away from campus, she said, meaning their daily commute would make a college education untenable.


Meet the Ph.D.s Facebook is putting through school

Facebook has named the first recipients of its new fellowship program for Ph.D. candidates doing research in areas related to “the social web and internet technology,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The five fellowships went to students working in cloud computing, social computing, behavioral economics, machine learning, and internet economics. The fellowships cover tuition and fees, as well as paying $30,000 for living expenses. That’s a huge pile of money to a Ph.D. student, and chickenfeed to Facebook—so this is a cheap way for the company to create some good will with a community of smart people working on problems that matter to the company…

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